We're looking at you, carrot tops and leftover salad greens.
1 Sep 2017 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 30 Jul 2019 - 11:00 AM

We’re all familiar with pesto alla genovese – that green, garlicky, no-cook, five-ingredient wonder sauce that elevates meats, pastas – even toast. The original version is made with basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic and good olive oil but you don't have to stick to tradition when it comes to this punchy Italian kicker.

Carrot top pesto

This is the ultimate in waste-free Italian ingenuity. Carrot tops are often binned before we even get to see them, but if you’re heading to your local growers' market, opt for a bunch with their tops on and whizz them with pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a handful of any herbs you have lying around for a knockout incarnation of the green stuff. Your guests will be none the wiser.

Baby spinach leaves and walnuts

This Peruvian pesto is milder than the Italian version thanks to the more subtle baby spinach leaves, evaporated milk and the soft and mild Queso fresco, available at good South American grocers.  

Kale pesto

Kale gets a bad wrap at times, namely for being a fad food, but it’s an inexpensive way to get a decent nutrient hit and happens to work a treat as a pesto base. Braising the garlics first gives this one more depth and spares you the raw aftermath – one of pesto’s greatest hallmarks. 

Warrigal greens

Pesto gets the Australiana treatment with this Warrigal greens riff. Native to the east coast of the country, they’re most similar in flavour and texture to English spinach (which, by the way, you can use as a stand-in). This pesto makes a killer accompaniment to most proteins, not to mention buys you plenty of creative cred. Bonus points if you foraged for it yourself.

Pistachio pesto (pesto di pistacchi)

Pinenuts are sidelined for pistachios and a few blanched almonds in this nutty variation on the Genoa staple. Use it on top of pasta, smeared on sandwiches or drizzled over salads. Prefer a creamier pasta sauce? Mix in a tablespoon of ricotta and heads will roll.

Coriander pesto with veggie chip dippers

Dairy and nut allergies might have made you run in the other direction previously but this aromatic coriander pesto might change that. It’s got a bit of a footing in Asian and Italian cuisines with a good hit of acidity via the lemons.

Waste not, want not

Is your veggie drawer losing the race against the clock? Beetroot tops, radish tops, peas, watercress, broad beans, wilting rocket, spinach or salad leaves, silverbeet and parsley can all be spared from the tip and stand in for basil in pesto (though it’s a good idea to lightly blanch the tougher stuff). Meanwhile, seeds, pepitas and any leftover nuts will do instead of pinenuts. When it comes to the cheesy part, use up any hard cheeses that are dancing with death. Going vegan? Try using melted coconut oil. Traditionalists may scoff but your back purse won't, and neither will your tastebuds. 


Get more ideas for pesto in River Cottage Australia 6.30pm weeknights on SBS Food (Channel 33), as Paul makes a wild weed pesto. Catch up with episodes via SBS On Demand